By now, most viewers of New Who are familiar with K-9, the tin dog. He makes his return in the second-season episode “School Reunion,” as the companion to Sarah Jane Smith. Later, he’s a familiar face in the spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures. However, what you might not know is that though both Sarah Jane and K-9 traveled with the Fourth Doctor, it wasn’t at the same time. Imagine if Mickey Smith (the other tin dog, right?) was found, in a future episode, to be hanging out with the Ponds in 20th century America. It would be weird, it would be awesome, and that’s pretty much what people thought when they decided to pair up Sarah Jane and K-9.
Discussing K-9 can get a little muddled; in addition to the typical timey-wimey stuff, there’s also more than one K-9.
Mark I – a girl and her dog
The Fourth Doctor and Leela, his primitive but futuristic companion, decide to keep K-9 in the episode “The Invisible Enemy.” Leela quickly grows fond of K-9, even taking him with her to rescue the Doctor. When she made the inevitable decision to leave the TARDIS, K-9 chooses to leave as well, and stay with her. However, it would appear the Doctor’s fond of K-9 as well, and at the end of the episode “The Invasion of Time” he unpacks a new K9 Mark II.
Mark II – Donna should have been given a puppy
…because apparently the Doctor’s got a new M.O. K-9 Mk II travels with the Doctor and his new companion Romana (who herself had more than one incarnation). Eventually the trio travels to E-Space, a parallel universe. K-9 gets severely damaged and has to stay where he is; luckily for him, Romana is ready to branch out and stays with him. By the way, the fact that Romana is in E-Space is the reason why I still hope for her eventual return; River Storm has proven that there’s always room for a Time Lady.
….Actually, the whole parallel universe and sending her off with the dog thing reminds me more of Rose, not Donna.
Mark III – III’s company
After four years with some version of K-9 the Doctor apparently wasn’t that eager to get another one – at least not for himself. Here’s where we get to the Sarah Jane/K-9 meet-up! Sarah Jane and K-9 were evidently popular on their own, so someone thought that a spin-off show featuring the two of them would be even better and a pilot was produced, called K-9 and Company. Sarah Jane goes to stay with her aunt and finds out a crate has been waiting for her for years. Inside is K-9 Mark III. I’m imagining the Doctor said, “Sending companions off with K-9 works fabulously! Sarah Jane might be having closure issues as she didn’t really want to leave, so instead of looking her up I’ll send a tin dog! Perfect!”
The pilot was long and convoluted and they decided not to pick it up, but they did air it as a Christmas Special. Later, in the Anniversary Special The Five Doctors, Sarah Jane is shown still living with K-9. However, in that special she’s paired up with the Third Doctor, so she can’t grill him about the consolation dog.
Finally, in “School Reunion,” Sarah Jane reveals K-9 in the trunk of her car, old and broken. Mickey repairs him enough for K-9 to save the day, but he’s still pretty much toast. At the end of the episode, the Tenth Doctor gives her Mark IV.
Mark IV – Sarah Jane’s snazzy upgrade
This version of K-9 pops up here and there in The Sarah Jane Adventures. His actual appearances are sporadic due to licensing issues, but he’s still Sarah Jane’s faithful companion.
Those are the four existing versions of K-9! But wait, there’s still a spinoff unaccounted for – the current Australian-produced show called K-9.
Turns out, that show actually features the ancient Mark I, rebuilt. Bob Baker, co-creator of the K-9 character, branched off and did this one on his own, so it’s not actually associated with the BBC or the Doctor. In the first episode, K-9 comes through a space-time portal in pursuit of an enemy. He’s severely damaged, but is rebuilt into an even better form (that isn’t quite the same as the design owned by BBC, naturally). The rebuilt K-9′s mind has been wiped as well, so there won’t be any pesky references to the Doctor, or any explanation of what happened to Leela.
Now, if K-9 makes an appearance on the 50th Anniversary Special, whether through clips or new footage, you’ll be able to know at a glance which ‘regeneration’ he is!
K-9 is also a somewhat controversial character in the Whoniverse – you either love him or hate him, it seems. What about you? What are your thoughts on the tin dog – endearing and helpful or obnoxious and useless?